This past week I have been overcome with anger, and it disgusts me. It started with an email from Carola linking to an article on the Daily Dot about the Barbie book. My immediate response was “no, this is not real. this is a nightmare.” Then, I purposely forgot about it for about 15 hours, until I decided to read the book to Dave.
“I’m only creating the design ideas … I’ll need Steven and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game!”
Alarm bells were already ringing, but I was still giving her the benefit of the doubt. I read on. A virus crashed her computer, and then she proceeded to spread that computer virus onto her sister Skipper’s computer. Skipper’s response? A pillow fight! Admittedly, she gets advice from a female computer science teacher. But, she ignores said advice when Steven and Brian tell her “It will go faster if Brian and I help” and proceed to do everything for her. In the end, Barbie takes all of the credit and mistakenly thinks that she has demonstrated what it takes to be a computer engineer. She has no clue!
After reading that book out loud to Dave, I could not sit still. I paced around the house. I was almost in tears. How is this possible? Moreover, what can I do with all of this emotion that I am feeling? I decided to make a petition. I am not a petition making person. I am not a person who shows any reaction when watching a movie: I don’t laugh and I rarely have a strong opinion on liking a movie or not liking it (well, other than LOVING Casablanca … but who doesn’t love that movie?) I am still baffled about why this book could ignite so much emotion in me all of a sudden.
I think the biggest reason is that I feel that my career choice is often misunderstood by many. I am a postdoctoral researcher. No one outside of academia really knows what that means. I try to explain, but I often get the response “oh, so you are a teacher” or “oh, so you are a student.” Sigh. No. (I’m working on a blog post to explain that. Maybe one day that post will be done). This Barbie book could have really helped me. If done the right way, this book could have done the explaining of what “computer engineer” (or, in my case computer scientist / mathematician) does all day. The gender roles were just icing on the cake for me. For me, this is not just about how Mattel / Random House have published an extremely sexist book, it is also about the fact that they failed to portray what a computer engineer is.
I strongly feel that the record needs to set straight. Whatever the title: computer engineer / computer scientist / engineer / mathematician … I want everyone to know that if I “work with computers” that does not necessarily mean that “I fix computers.” (I am very grateful for people who do fix computers though!) And, I am very happy to help friends / family trouble shoot their computer problems, but most of the time, I am as helpful as I just know what to Google. What I do in my daily life is so much more than just use a computer. And, it’s often hard for me to explain why or how to friends and family. And, Barbie just made that harder. I think this is why I am so outraged.
Over the past few days, progress has been made. Mattel issued an apology:
The Barbie I Can Be A Computer Engineer book was published in 2010. Since that time we have reworked our Barbie books. The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the Brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for. We believe girls should be empowered to understand that anything is possible and believe they live in a world without limits. We apologize that this book didn’t reflect that belief. All Barbie titles moving forward will be written to inspire girl’s imaginations and portray an empowered Barbie character.
In my opinion, this is not good enough. Yes, they apologized, and yes, they will make future books more empowering. But, why not pull this book from print / sales immediately? Why have Random House and the author not made official statements? Most importantly, why is it still on sale?
Both Amazon (US) and Barnes & Noble have pulled the title from their catalog. There is some discrepancy as to whether it was Amazon / B&N who did this or Mattel / Random House requesting it. But, it is still on sale at other vendors and this is not ok. We need this pulled off the market entirely. I agree 100% with everything said in the National center for Women in Technology (NCWIT)’s open letter to Bryan Stockton (Mattel CEO). This book needs to be removed from all inventories, and the promise of a revised version of the book needs to be made. And, until this happens, this petition must continue.
Two days ago, this was the #1 best seller on Amazon in the category of children’s computer & technology books!